MANILA – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) First Division has granted the petition to disqualify Albay Governor Noel Rosal for violating a provision of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) on the disbursement of public funds.

In a resolution promulgated on Sept. 19, the Division found merit in the petition of Joseph San Juan Armogila, who ran for councilor but lost in the May polls, to disqualify Rosal from the Albay gubernatorial race.

The petition which was filed on April 11, 2022 stemmed from the "payout" of cash assistance to tricycle drivers and senior citizens by Rosal while he was still mayor of Legazpi City.

It said the law imposes a “prohibition against the release, disbursement and expenditure of public funds by government agencies for all social welfare and development projects and activities except for: (a) salaries of personnel, (b) routine and normal expenses, (c) such other expenses as the Commission may authorize after due notice and hearing.”

“Undoubtedly, the pay-out of cash assistance to the tricycle drivers and senior citizens are social welfare and development activity that is covered by the prohibition,” the resolution read.

Section 261 of the OEC prohibits the release of expenditure of public funds during the 45-day period before election day.

The Comelec also did not approve Rosal’s argument that the financial assistance is exempted from the prohibition since the activity is just a continuation of what has already been started in 2021.

“Nowhere in the law does it state that a continuing social welfare and development project is excluded from the prohibition nor exempted thereof,” the resolution said.

“All told, the conducted pay-out of cash assistance to the tricycle drivers and senior citizen within the forty-five (45) day ban is not an exempted activity and was not given an exemption by the Commission, hence, Respondent violated Section 261 (v) of the OEC,” it added.

The Resolution was signed by presiding Commissioner Soccoro Inting and Commissioner Aimee Ferolino.

On the other hand, acting Comelec spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco said the respondent could still stay as governor until a final ruling of the poll body, as the ruling of the division is not yet final and executory.

Rosal may still file a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec en banc or elevate it to the Supreme Court. (PNA)